In tough times, grads become overqualified nannies

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PHILADELPHIA — Ashley Newhall, 28 and a resident of Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, has a law degree and a master’s in agricultural law, and she passed the bar in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These days, she’s working with some extremely demanding and exacting clients.

The hitch? Most of them are less than 3 years old. Ms. Newhall’s primary income source for the last few years has been baby-sitting.

Parents, said Ms. Newhall, are “blown away. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re the most overeducated nanny I’ve ever had.’ ” But jobs are scarce, and all that education came with six-figure debt. Along with two other jobs, she said, “the nannying is keeping me afloat.”

Ms. Newhall may consider her stint in the nursery a detour. But for busy parents, it’s a boon — and an unexpected flip side to a rough job market that has been especially cruel to young workers. Parents are enjoying a pool of highly qualified and educated 20-something sitters — some with safety certifications and degrees in early-childhood education — often at the same price as the high schooler down the street.

“You’d think, if they have more education, they’ll bring more to the table — and honestly they do,” said Rachel Kerner, a physician and mother of two toddlers who lives in Melrose Park, Pa. “We have a person who finished her degree in education, so she’s able to do projects with the kids. We have an occupational-therapy student and a social worker — and they’re all bringing added benefits, so it’s not just a teenager sitting there waiting for her boyfriend to come over with the pizza.”

According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, underemployment among college graduates has risen significantly since 2001. Last year, 18.3 percent of young college grads were underemployed.

“The labor market’s growing very slowly, and there’s been a number of graduating classes since the recession began, so the competition is pretty fierce,” said Mark Price, labor economist at the Keystone Research Center.

And as of 2012, 52 percent of college grads younger than 25 who were employed held jobs that didn’t require four-year degrees, according to an analysis by a Northeastern University economist.

College graduates still fare far better than those with less education, Mr. Price said, “but their circumstances as a group are worse today than where their counterparts were a decade ago.”

Asia IrgangLaden, 24, of Elkins Park, Pa., can attest to that. “From what I’ve seen, it takes everybody about a year to get a full-time teaching job,” she said. She got her degree in special and elementary education from Temple in 2012, and last fall landed a job as a support teacher. She hopes that will lead to her own classroom.

In the intervening time, she fell back on the job she’d first held at age 14.

“A lot of my friends are baby-sitting,” she said. “It feels like a natural thing to do if you’re going into a teaching position.”

The supply is even fueling a demand for more educated nannies; to a degree, she said, nannying is becoming professionalized.

And, in the era of boomerang kids, college grads’ parents are far less likely to complain.

“Being a nanny has gained a tremendous amount in terms of professional prestige and respect,” Ms. Sachs said. “The compensation packages reflect that … with paid holidays, paid sick and personal time, and health care.”

Miles Butler, 23, a friend from Ms. IrgangLaden’s Elkins Park neighborhood, said he was drawn to the flexibility baby-sitting offers. He’s considering a full-time nannying job.

“Financially, it makes sense, and [I love] reconnecting with what it’s like to be a kid,” he said. With first aid and CPR certifications, he makes double minimum wage.

Still, Shigeru Fujita, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, isn’t so sanguine. The problem: Baby-sitting jobs, especially part-time ones, tend to be unstable. That increases the risk of unemployment, which over time can mean significant accumulated wage loss.

Economists view a person’s earning ability like an escalator, rising over time. A spell of unemployment, or a detour from one’s chosen career, delays getting on the escalator. “Their lifetime income is going to be lower because of the difficulties in finding a job,” he said.

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